Zulat Conference “From Quasi-Authoritarian State to Dictatorship?”: Executive Director’s Opening Remarks




The Zulat conference, held on 14 May 2023 at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv, included a panel entitled “What Makes Israel a Borderline Authoritarian State and When Will It Be Defined a ‘Dictatorship’?” Moderated by Neta Ahituv, the panel consisted of Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal, as well as Zulat’s Steering committee members Prof. Aeyal Gross, Dr. Meital Pinto, and Dr. Manal Totry-Jubran. Here are highlights of their remarks:


Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal: “Authoritarian elements are very prominent in Israel. There are elections, but we rank very low on democratic values. Ben-Gurion made some disastrous decisions: no education for democracy, no constitution, and he separated the ultra-Orthodox from the rest of the public and from religious Zionism. At the Friday dinner table, Israelis don’t discuss democracy with their children. The Supreme Court is not democratic: it has endorsed the Nationality Law and the occupation. The guys in the current government went a little too fast. Had they done it a la Hungary or Poland, they would have succeeded. The Israeli public does not understand what democracy is.”


Dr. Totry-Jubran: “There was never a model democracy here, but rather an ethnic democracy that gave priority to a certain public. People were shocked that a girl was beaten by a policeman on horseback during the protests, but we [Israel’s Arab citizens] have for years had deaths and overpolicing at protest events.”


Prof. Aeyal Gross: “The anti-occupation bloc in the protests is very important because it connects between the issues at stake. It’s hard for me to hear Dan ‘Light-Bump-on-the-Wing-of-the-Plane’ Halutz [he said that’s what he felt as an Air Force pilot when dropping a bomb in Gaza] and other people on the stage declaring that Israelis who don’t serve in the army are unworthy. You can’t make such a speech and then wonder why Arabs don’t join the protest.”


Dr. Meital Pinto: “We need to listen to the pain of Palestinian Arabs who are Israeli citizens and yet have minimal representation in the centers of power, to listen to those populations that live in the periphery, be it geographical or social-cultural. Everyone wants to be part of and have a share in the centers of power. Authoritarianism is very attractive because it offers a distinct sense of belonging to certain groups. It is captivating and seductive.”


Dr. Maha Sabbah Karkabi


Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Tel Aviv University (2015), a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Gender Studies, SOAS, University of London (2015-2016), a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Sociology at Tel Aviv University (2016-2017), and a postdoctoral fellowship Ph.D. at the Humphrey Institute for Social Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (2018-2020).
Dr. Maha Karbahi’s areas of interest focus on the connection between social change, family behavior, and gender inequality in societies in the process of change and specifically in Palestinian Arab society in Israel. Her research draws attention to the study of family life and employment, using a combined “ethnic lens” and “gender lens” and paying attention to the perspective of Palestinian Arab women, a group characterized by intersections between multiple marginal locations, which over the years has remained hidden from the research eye. Dr. Karkabi-Sabah’s research is published in professional journals and chapters in scientific books that are considered pioneers in family research, work, and gender equality.


Prof. Frances Raday

Professor Emeritus in the Lieberman Chair in Labor Law, in the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University and serves as a full professor in the College of Management’s academic track, where she also serves as chair of the graduate program and as honorary president of the Concord Center for International Law Absorption. Radai was a member of a working group of the UN Human Rights Council on discrimination against women. In addition, she is a prominent and feminist human rights activist.


Dr. Rawia Aburabia 

Faculty member of Sapir Academic College’s School of Law, received her PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her research deals with the interface between law, gender, minorities, and human rights. Has published in leading journals on the subject of the matrimonial laws pertaining to Muslim women in Israel. Her book Under the Law, Outside Justice: Polygamy, Gendered Citizenship, and Colonialism in Israeli Law is expected to be published as part of the Gender Series of Kibbutz Meuhad Publishing House.

Dr. Aburabia has extensive experience in international human rights and public law. She has worked as a jurist for the Association for Civil Right and has been invited as a specialist to address such international forums as the United Nations and the European Parliament on the subject of indigenous communities and minority rights. She has interned with Human Rights Watch in Washington DC, and has been a member of the executive board of Amnesty International. In 2018, she was selected by the magazine Globes as one of the 40 most promising young persons in Israel under the age of 40.



Ron Kessler

With over two decades of experience in the field of digital content, Ron has participated in numerous political and social campaigns. He helped run the digital activity of senior public officials, and worked in various NGOs. Ron is a fundamentally optimistic man, who believes that Israel can be changed and so can people. Lives in Tel Aviv.